Sunday, October 31, 2004
the same way I did, as if she always had to get things started, that no one
ever called her. Her response was to just keep calling people.
My response was rather churlish. I talked about my "Anti-pest Principle,"
that I assumed if no one called me it meant they didn't want to hear from
me. That's true, as far as it goes, but I think I missed her point. She was
trying to be encouraging and I just shot her down with a quick
counter-statement that showed no understanding.
The truth is that I don't know. I hear about people who are always calling
each other, and I hear many of them directly. Everywhere I go people are
talking on cell phones. Who are they talking to?
In the Book of Acts, the believers are described as meeting frequently to
share food, worship, ideas, and all the other things people do. They seemed
to enjoy meeting, and did so a few time each week.
What does it take to reach that elite status? Whatever it is, I don't have
it. If I died today it'd be a month or so before anyone outside of work
noticed. The most reasonable conclusion I can come up with is that there's
something wrong with me, that no one wants to talk to me. So I'm certainly
not going to bother them by calling; if they wanted to talk to me, they'd
make some effort in reaching me.
Maybe not. Breezze said that many, perhaps most, people just don't call
others. Maybe they're even more shy than I am. She said we needed more
people like me, who could put themselves forward and make the contact.
How am i to judge? People are good actors. They may say they're glad I
called, but inside they're thinking "How soon can I get this pest off the
line so I can go on about my life?"
What if she's right? What if there are many people out there who truly are
more shy than I, who are waiting for someone to make contact with them?
It's a world made of cells. The doors are unlocked but everyone's afraid to
open them. Some of us are more desperate for contact than others, so we go
against habit and open the door.
Until we get tired. Then what? Everyone else is used to the modus operandi,
and they're waiting for someone to reach through the door. When the person,
such as I, who used to reach in is too tired to do so, everything comes to
Maybe we've just lost the skill. It has been buried in Satan-inspired
business. Everything is more important than relationships. Making money,
making plans to make money, working another job, saving the world, planning
grandiose events to save the world. "I'll talk to you later. I'm just busy
right now." And years go by. Loneliness becomes a habit, to the point where
living alone becomes an appreciated skill. Self-sufficiency is the new God.
I don't know how this is supposed to work. I do know that I'm tired, and
wish there were someone out there who'd reach in through the door once in a
while to find out how I'm doing. On Breezze's Blog there's an interesting
thread on telling stories. We've all agreed there's great human power,
inspired by God, in the stories we tell of our lives. I'm glad we can do so
through blogging, but it'd be nice to do it face to face. I'll just have to
keep following Jesus and see where He leads. He's the only real hope I have
to find a solution to this problem.
A Graduation of Solutions
Sometimes the solution is an ongoing process. I can't eat breakfast once
for all, but I understand the process, know what to do, and don't need to
think about it very much.
That's the real goal: solving a problem means not having to think about it
any more. The autopilot handles the old problem so I can go on to new ones,
or just forget about everything for a time.
Yesterday I was on my home on the bus. I get on at the start of the route
and there's always room in the two-place rack for my bicycle. A few stops
before we got onto the freeway another woman got on with her bike. The rack
was full, and at the last stop another man tried to talk the operator into
letting him put his bike between the two already there. "You'll have to
wait for the next bus." I've been in his situation before and I don't like
It had been a very busy day. i was crabby and just wanted to get home so I
could quit thinking about anything. I didn't pay much attention to the
woman who usually rides with me and tells me about all her boyfriends and
such. Earplugs are a big help with the constant noise of the bus.
We arrived at Bundy and Pico in time to catch a westbound 7-line. I walked
over to the stop. The woman with the bike followed a few minutes later, and
then the bus showed up. One position was available on the bike rack. I took
it. Basic principle is "first come, first served." One of us would have to
wait and I didn't want it to be me. The next bus could be an old crock with
no rack, or the rack could be full, I'm tired and don't want to ride home
against the brisk west wind.
I felt a twinge of something or other. Not exactly the way of kindness, I
thought as I got onto the bus. I'm supposed to be kind. God has been kind
to me. It was too much and I just retreated, turned my back on God and
everything else. God will just yell at me and I've had it with everything
You'd think I'd learn. I've seen first-hand how God works in my life, but
I'm still looking for that once-for-all solution: God as autopilot so I
don't have to think about Him. Just follow the principles and commands and
sleepwalk. Autopilot is antithetical to the kind of relationship God wants.
This isn't a problem to be solved. I can't just make a new tool and call it
good, or synthesize a principle and go on using that to prosecute the
ongoing life. Any relationship, ideally, is flexible and ever-changing but
frequently they devolve into sameness day after day so that no new
solutions are required. Every day with God is different, as He Himself is
He really doesn't give a fig for actions. What He wants is access. My real
sin in getting on that bus wasn't putting myself first, but closing myself
off from God. I quit believing, and all of the new solutions in my life
that depend upon that belief and access started eroding. All the usual
problems started growing: depression, a lack of interest.
It seems that life isn't a problem to be solved so much as it is a
relationship to be participated in. I thought the idea here was that God
would patch things back together so I'd be able to live outside of the
repair shop. Turns out that the repair shop is the world and the only way
to live is with God's hands constantly holding my works together. Apart
from Him I can do nothing. Or at least nothing worth doing.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Cut and Fill
One of the major assignments given to me was to calculate cut-and-fill for proposed highway routes. If there's a hill, you cut it down. If there's a valley, you fill it in. The objective is to keep the highway as level as possible, but this is expensive. The spoil from the cut has to be moved to where the fill is needed, so the best route is one that both balances cut and fill, and has the cuts near where the fill is required. I didn't have to worry about that. I just did the arithmetic, using an asthmatic mechanical calculator. Engineers made the decisions, and I left before the project was complete.
The principle taught me a lot. Cut and fill. I use heavy internal reconstruction equipment to cut off the tops of the hills, and to fill in the valleys. Happiness is flattened, sadness filled in. The objective is to level everything out, and I will do anything I can to remain in that state. I just don't want the extremes because they interfere with the rational process of living.
Then God said He was going to remake me so I wasn't depressed. After I got over the audacity of the proposal I thought it was a pretty good idea and told him to go ahead. I thought it would be, if not easy (I didn't expect that), at least simple. It turns out it's not even that, because the cut-and-fill process seems to contribute to depression... and I really depend upon leveling.
I don't want my thoughts to be influenced by what I feel. Either way, happy or sad, emotions lead to bad decisions. I've seen many, many examples. I thought I'd found a higher, better way: let emotions out only when the situation is safe. That hardly ever happens, but the trade-off seemed a good one.
Wrong-O, Buzzard-Breath! Last night, God and I were discussing happiness. It seems that when happiness is controlled the way I do it, the process messes up other things and ultimately makes my relationship with God less strong. Apparently I need emotional freedom, not cut-and-fill. I don't really want it.
How much do I miss God when He's not around? The first day's not so bad. The second is a little thin. After that, life begins to look a lot like summer of 2003, when I was just looking forward to not ever waking up again. This is astoundingly delicate. Human life is a very fragile thing, at least when there's any reality to it.
What does it really take to make life worth living? I have no hard answer yet, but I know a lot about what doesn't work. Add emotional management to the list.
The first thing God had to teach me was that everything I knew about Him was wrong. Since then He has pointed out errors in other places, misinformation and lies. Happiness has always been a lie to me, a promise of something that never really happens. Happiness is just the precursor to another crash. If I'm not happy, then I can't crash. Very simple. But crashing on my own is different from crashing with God. He's good at picking up the pieces and putting them together. Again.
I'm still very afraid of crashing. Habit dies hard. I'm not used to living in God's rich world of grace and plenty.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
God Started With Kindness
Once I did, though, once I'd been brought to Him, I discovered a different reality. That happened over a year ago and I still have problems! Every time I make a mistake I cringe and expect the internal hammer to fall.
It's MY hammer, however, not the Lord's. Yes, I deserve to have a hammer fall on me; I'm a sinner, like everyone else, and haven't earned a thing. Grace is a gift from God Himself and all I can do is pick it up. He meets all my mistakes with grace. Judgment is a human phenomenon.
We're all well trained. I'm even better trained than most, because I learned early that, if I judged myself, it led to fewer problems with other people. I just about managed to judge myself right out of the running for continued life, and God has had a real struggle teaching me how to live under grace.
You'd think this would be easy. Experience shows that God is very generous with forgiveness. The only thing He won't forgive is lack of belief in Himself and His Son, Jesus. Beyond that, the door is always open. Erwin, the pastor of Mosaic, said it best: "The safest place for a sinner to be is at the feet of Jesus." Everyone else judges, offering their "words of truth." God always speaks truth, but as He did with the woman at the well, He does so in a way that leaves the way open for growth. Human judgment cuts people off at the knees. Jesus very gently says exactly what the truth is, to let you know that He understands completely, and then He offers a solution. If you use it, fine. If you don't, He will try again the next time.
Here's an example. A few weeks ago I planned to do a sand sculpture. God has let me know that it's OK for me to continue sculpting--this was a problem a few months ago, but He has convinced me--so once the summer ended I went back to regular practice. The low tide was early, so I had to be on the beach before sunrise. I got up early, ate breakfast, packed my gear and took off. Arrived on scene, I went to work. After about an hour I started to feel that something was wrong.
God chooses many ways to communicate. Different people get different modes. I've heard of so many different ways that I'm astounded: God meets each person where he needs to be met and how he needs to be met. Whatever it takes. For me, I'm easy to influence through thoughts. I'm always thinking about something, and I can tell when something isn't quite right. It's hard to describe. Eventually I realized God was displeased, so naturally I started feeling guilty for having started this sculpture. So, just as naturally, I kept with the task and tried to ignore God's voice.
I can ignore Him, but this means the tap on the shoulder gets progressively stronger. Someday maybe I'll learn to pay attention immediately. But sand sculpture is important to me and I don't want to lose it. More important than God? This question is tough. Not more important, but it is more tangible, and sometimes I want something tangible. I trust things I can hold or touch. They're real. Could God be a figment of my imagination? Not likely. This was an awfully persistent figment.
Eventually I quit working and asked God to show me what was wrong. I expected to get the riot act for my idolatrous dependence upon being creative. I sort of cowered and waited for judgment. That isn't His way.
The problem this day wasn't sand sculpture per se, but how I was doing it. I'd Martha-processed the whole thing, being so busy that I never even said "Good Morning" to God. I focused on the sculpture and its attendant, time-sensitive tasks, and that was idolatrous. Can you imagine? The God of the Universe wanted to be there with me as I made a sculpture.
The kindness was in the timing. I wouldn't have started if He'd said anything earlier. He waited until I was committed to the sculpture before getting my attention. God didn't want me to quit, but He did expect me to be open to him.
Since then He has helped in more sand sculptures. I know this sounds silly, but He reminds me to eat. I tend to forget, and then I get weak and stupid toward the end of the day. If I eat I do better sculpture. And He helps me stay with the sculpture. Don't give up. Don't just accept what you did the last time. Try for something better. Learn.
Kindness. Kind of hard to imagine, but there it is. God is not distant, He is not uncaring. He is determined to bring us all as close to Himself as we will allow him to do. And I forget about this very easily, forget and get scared, and then run. Oh, Lord Jesus, please help me to see your kindness.
Listening is a great way to learn, but why can I not be heard? Other than having grown up with the habit of silence because no one wanted to hear from me. So I become a seeming vacuum into which other people feel free to unload their words. Earplugs are sometimes my best friends.
Real communication is so rare that it's easy for me to quit believing in it. Then I'll have dinner with Debbie and Nate, and the conversation will run thick and fast between the three of us and it's like the sky lights up, the heaters come on and life is so rich I could choke on it.
It's so brief. I go home and the house is cold. I'm cold. Where are my friends? Someplace far away. Why don't they call me? If I want contact with anyone I have to start it.
Could it be that God is there to warm the night? Is it OK to lean on Him for no other reason than I'm lonely, and now that He is turning my stone heart into flesh I feel the loneliness more sharply than ever?
I know there are technologic problems here. I don't know very much about real friendship. You get good at what you do, and I have little experience in this area. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. What am I going to do?
One answer came to me as I stood waiting to get a turnover at Mani's Bakery. "God, am I supposed to be able to ask you about this?" It seems so trivial, but "you don't have because you don't ask." I'll probably have to have more of the stone changed to flesh before this happens, however, and right now I wonder if I'll survive the transformation. Well, I won't.. Larry qua Larry died with Jesus on the cross. I'm something else now. Lu calls this an adventure. I wish I were that positive.
I'm just rationally lonely.
Kindness is a Bribe
History. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. I always thought that well-behaved people would get attention, but no. Well-behaved children get left alone. The bad ones get attention they don't want. What's the secret for getting good attention? Beats the flock out of me.
I learned never to ask for help. See You Love Me for Breezze's comments on a similar situation. People "speaking the truth." Gargh. First learn to recognize truth, then walk in it, then maybe you'll be competent to speak it.
Sometimes help is no kindness anyway. Sometimes people just have to go through a process of learning how to live. This is difficult. I know I never did it very well, until I met God when He brought me back to Himself.
I have all these years of habit. I'm suspicious and cynical. I always look at the gift horse's teeth because I don't want to be saddled with the maintenance expenses. God starts raining his kindness down on me and I naturally, automatically, think that there's an ulterior motive. He's just doing this for what he can get out of me. Use me up and throw me away.
Paul got along with that, but I'm no Paul. I've never had a life. Is it too much to expect that I might get one now, when it's almost too damned late?
What's the truth? The truth is that God was kind to me long before I was in any position to do anything for Him. He could also do anything I can do, better than I can do it. God continues expressing His steady kindness to me, regardless of my response. If that's a bribe, it's an odd kind of bribe.
How has He been kind to me? In many ways, small and large. I could write a long list. A few instances will do for now. I came to Los Angeles in 1984, broke and broken. God gave me a job here, in a place where I met the people I now work with. I could have ended up doing the same work in other places, but I got just the right one. Why was this important? Who I work with is more important, at least to me, than what I do. If I can't stand my co-workers, I rapidly lose interest in showing up, and that has killed more than one job in my history. I ended up in the one niche where I could belong because of my peculiar skills, and make enough money so that I didn't have to worry about paying the bills. So, I stayed. Stability.
Stability led to saving money, and that led to becoming interested again in photography, and that led to buying a medium format camera. That led to needed a professional lab for processing and printing, and that led to meeting Steve Cohen, and that led to conversations in his lab. Those conversations eventually came around to sand sculpture, which led to Steve organizing a show for the Sierra Club. Now, I hadn't done a sculpture in 7 years. Depression and various other factors. So, if he wanted slides, I had to go to the beach and figure out if I could still make sculpture. I did an experiment in June of 1994, and found that, yes, I still could sculpt. I stayed with it. Later on that year I quit psychoanalysis, and just about quit living altogether. What kept me going? The promise of sand sculpture.
Sand sculpture was the bridge I used to get over the next several years. My job was OK, other things were moderately interesting, but I lived for sculpture. The opportunity to be purely creative. When I came to the end of that bridge, the man whom God used to start the process of bringing me back met me on the beach. Doing a sculpture. That contact led to Mosaic, and that led to continued life. God's kindness.
Since then, His kindness has been more subtle, more detailed, and constant. My response has been fear. Kindness only comes before the axe falls. He waits for me to turn and ask Him what's going on. Last night on the bus I finally got rather tired of the ongoing conflict around the question of just what the heck I'm for, and He gave me an image of sand sculpture. Creativity. That's my unique ability. To bring, as one man thanked me for on the beach last Saturday, beauty into a world that worships ugliness.
What was my response to God's expression of kindness? Anger. I was upset, crabby, irritable. "Don't you dare manipulate me!" Since then we've had more discussions. God's kindness is no bribe. It's His character. He can no more help being kind than I can help breathing. This is a very good thing because He would have offed me for disrespect. What He really does is continue to hope, continue to teach me, continue to guide me and give me kindness whether I accept it or not. He started first by giving me His Son, Jesus, and He just keeps going on from there.
Saturday, October 23, 2004
I will gather you from the nations
and bring you back from the countries
where you have been scattered
and I will give you back the land of Israel again.
"They will return to it
and remove all its vile images and detestable idols.
I will give them an undivided heart
and put a new spirit in them;
I will remove from them their heart of stone
and give them a heart of flesh.
Then they will follow my decrees
and be careful to keep my laws.
They will be my people, and
I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11: 17-20 NIV)
As usual, Lu's spiritual eyesight is sharp. Heart of stone, heart of flesh.
She commented on one of my Blog entries and included this quote. It
describes, quite precisely, what God is doing with me. I knew what he was
doing, had described it but never formulated it in this way. Evidently I'm
not the only person in whose heart God has wrought change.
It sounds wonderful. Changing dead, cold stone for living flesh. Warm.
There are problems, however, one of them being simple experience. I know
stone. I know its limitations, and I know how to live with these. I don't
know how to live with warm flesh.
Stone is durable. When the wheels come off you just sit tight and let the
world fall apart around your unaffected stone core. Waves come in and can't
touch you. Stone is stable. Winds howl and the stone is unmoved. In a world
seeking to destroy every distinction by bringing everything to the lowest
common denominator, a stone heart is easy to keep on the higher way. It
can't be pulled down. Other people's opinions have no effect.
Perfect, right? A stone on the straight and narrow.
Wrong. That's not the way God made me, but the way I remade myself. Meet
hostility with stone. It was better than fighting back, which just brought
on ever escalating conflict. God didn't like my solution, and started
dissolving my stone heart. What I thought was tough granite turns out to
have been limestone, susceptible of dissolution by the one solvent I least
I was terrified. I am terrified. The only way I can keep the terror livable
is to look ahead no farther than required for the next tiny step. If I get
a look at the long way ahead I cower and turn away. It'd be better if I
could walk backward.
Somewhere ahead is the Big Event, the one that will terminate my existence.
I'll hit the cliff and go no farther. A heart of stone might survive the
collision. A heart of flesh doesn't even want to contemplate it.
A heart of flesh can be hurt. I've had my fill of pain and don't want any
Yet, what can I do? I am God's child, and He is my God. With Job, all I can
"You said 'Listen to me, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you shall answer me.'
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."
Repenting doesn't require dust, sackcloth and ashes. It, in my case, simply
requires turning around and letting God do what he wants. He's proven to me
that he knows better than I what needs to be done.
Holding onto that promise requires some of stone's obdurate character.
God's will for me includes some incomprehensible balance of me-ness and
Him-ness. He made me for something other than just living as a rock-legged
robot making a straight path out of a world that wanders.
Beauty is the door into wonder. It's dangerous. God's way is of beauty. I
can't see it if I'm looking no farther than my toes, nor if I'm locked away
behind cold stone. Beauty is the way of strength, stone the way of
weakness. I know only the weaker way, and trust only it. Can I really trust
God to give me the strength to survive his beauty?
2004 October 23
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Until the time when I realized it was all a shaky false front. Well, I am good at figuring things out, but that didn't seem to matter very much in the long-haul appreciation of life. My question now is, "What replaces the false front?" How do I get through the day, if not by assuming I can make a place for myself?
Paul says to boast in Christ Jesus, if we have to boast. I'm not really talking about boasting here, not bragging but just a sort of self-confident attitude that convinces me that no matter what happens I can figure out a way around or through it. The idea comes under the rubric of pride, or honor, or self-confidence, or perhaps self-love. Maybe it's better explained as feeling that I'm OK.
It's still, in my case, a false front I walk in tall as trees, but behind the forested mural is a very small, very scared child.
Does confidence, the real article, come from God? He's certainly not going to be overwhelmed, and he has proven that he'll do anything to bring me back to himself. How does this affect my self-image? A superficial view might indicate that I'm absolutely incompetent: God has to do everything. How can I be proud of myself?
Should I even be proud of myself? I've always thought this was an essential part of life. There is something that separates successful people from unsuccessful, something that won't let some people quit while others try once and then give up. One man caves in to alcoholism, another goes to AA and gets himself straightened out.
My friend Rocket was a cocaine addict, but got himself sorted out and is now the owner of a very successful business. Why didn't he give up? What made him turn around instead of just continuing to drive himself downward until the end?
All I have to experiment with is myself, and my experiment ultimately failed. I'm still coming to grips with my need for God. This is very embarrassing. I'm truly incapable of keeping myself going. It also seems that the longer I live with God, following Jesus, the less competent I become at running my own life. Is there anything left for me to be proud of? Does pride matter?
Maybe I just live on the glory reflected from God Himself. Maybe that's all any of us have, God's image written into us, and we just think it's ours. My ability to figure things out, my ability to think straight, all gifts from God.
As I worked on the sand sculpture last Saturday, a woman said to me "This is a gift from God. You must believe that." The statement brought back memories of last year, when a man asked me where I thought creativity came from. I didn't know. He suggested that it came from God. I said I didn't believe in God.
A few months later God showed himself to me. What's left of me? I don't know. Self-respect? I don't know. Is there even a need for this any more? There seems to be; we're to be wise as serpents. We're not to let others pull the wool over our eyes. I've seen many Christians get buffaloed by con artists.
There is a need to think. Even more there is a need to know God. I already know how to think. God is an ongoing surprise; it seems He shows me something new every day, and this usually has to do with some other part of my life I've patched together that He wants to rebuild.
I wonder what I'm turning into. I seem to be no less competent for all of my dependence upon God Himself to hold me.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Life, Service and Freedom
Why am I here? I come from a highly independent family; no one asked for help unless they were in extremis. I got used to doing things for myself because if I asked for help I spent more time fixing the problems that the other person caused than actually solving the problem. One time I had some help with a sand sculpture and it took three hours to make the pile. By myself I could have done it in two.
I learned to trust only myself. This wasn't exactly ideal, but at least I know my own pattern of mistakes and can work around that. This is good for process.
It's not very good for getting up in the morning. Life... was pretty much something done because I was here.
God has different ideas, but what are they? He has to give me the faith it takes to live his life. He has to give me the mental clarity it takes to understand. He pretty much has to give me the air I breathe and the impetus to get out of bed.
This is getting worse, too. It seems the farther I go along his path, the more I need him. At the outset I thought that eventually I'd learn enough that God would become more of a distant supervisor. This is the course of human helping relationships: you get better, you're on your own. God seems to work differently.
I guess I have good company. David says the same thing in many psalms. I still don't understand. Am I just an empty shell for the Holy Spirit to move around in?
But that can't be. Jesus didn't die for an empty shell. God doesn't love machinery; he wouldn't have put all of this effort into just animating automatic meat.
This must be a call for some of that faith that God has given me. Believe that my life is worthwhile because He says it is.
Maybe it's because I'm so process oriented. I am what I do. God sees me for who I am. What a very, very strange concept. I see myself and other people as functions fulfilled, or potential for fulfilling a function. God sees... something else. I don't understand.
Naturally. God's ways are not my ways. I was a slave to sin for many years so that's my worldview. It takes time to root out all those old ideas and see things from God's point of view. Read Galatians. There Paul talks a lot about being a slave to old processes given us by the ruler of this world. Hint: they're not given us for our health, and they're not given by someone who cares. But they're familiar, and they're superficially attractive and addictive. I grew up with these ideas, so naturally they're part of me, and something that I trust.
Paul also mentions in his letter to the Galatians that we who believe in Jesus have been made free to serve others. I can't get my mind around that idea. Free to serve? Free to be a slave? It takes freedom to do that?
And yet, look where living in accordance with my ideas of freedom landed me. Barely able to get out of bed, and rapidly devolving into someone who didn't care about anything. It's a good thing God cares because otherwise I'd have terminated the experiment. Only by His grace do I go on, hoping one day to understand, but in the interim I'll have to make use of the Holy Spirit's very strange gift. Faith.
Monday, October 18, 2004
The teaching there is good, and that's why I went back. That there are questions about the relational aspect is inevitable; I'm having a bad case of the shys anyway, and just can't push myself over the hump to introduce myself. At Mosaic, I got partway up and then someone reached a hand out to help me the rest of the way.
Then at the end of the service there was an impassioned altar call. For anyone who wanted prayer. They could come forward, and various church members would pray with them, or they could pray alone. Then the pastor asked for more experienced volunteers to stand by. Finally he invited those too shy to go up front to simply stay in their seats but raise a hand, whereupon one of the others would come to lay a hand on them.
This was too much for me. I don't know why. Self-protection is an ingrained habit; safety is up to me. The circuit breakers tripped out and I sat there in a daze, no one home, until the service was over a few minutes later. Then I walked out with the rest, animated meat, down the stairs and across the lawn.
God pushed the breakers back in as I walked home. I still didn't understand what happened. As the week went on I came no closer to understanding. A mountain bike ride, a sand sculpture, working on projects in my garage, that all went well. Spiritually I was mostly on autopilot; there was this one big area I didn't want to think about.
Anything involving love makes me very nervous. Was what happened in church an expression of love, or was it something fake? Or something else? I suspected it was love of a kind.
If I'd seen a demonstration like that at Mosaic when I first went there, would I have been drawn in? Probably not. The alarms would have sounded, the breakers would have tripped, and I'd have walked out and stayed out. What held me there was God's obvious presence.
It wasn't until Sunday evening a week after this event that I came to a couple of understandings. One was that I was hurting myself by not discussing it with God. Keeping him out of my life is like standing by the table and refusing to eat. Life goes dead.
The other issue was more of a surprise. I'm a well-taught troubleshooter and problem solver. I never ask for help because the help has too high a price. I trust my troubleshooting skills more than I trust anything else... maybe even more than I trust God. But here I was, trying to find the problem, and I couldn't! What actually went wrong? What is the real problem? A week's worth of desultory thought, and I still had only a couple of small clues.
This situation obviously connects to something very deep in me. I'm frightened badly even thinking about thinking about it. The limits of a troubleshooter.
This is rather like a year ago. Running into my own limits and asking God for help. Then it was easy: ask God or die. Now it's more complex; life is going better. I don't have to trust God for everything.
That's superficial understanding. The truth is that the farther I go into God's life, the more I need his constant care and help. I need him. Even to be a troubleshooter. I can't do anything worth doing without Him.
High, wispy clouds. Mare's tails. These are precursor clouds announcing a change in weather. Could we really have a storm on the way?
I've always liked rain, but now that I live in a desert my appreciation for it has gone into the mystical. From about mid-July onward, the land dries and shrivels. At the end of August, everything is just waiting for rain. The mountains are hard-bitten in browned, scratchy, stingy shrubs. Dust is everywhere.
I asked God for rain. I asked him to nudge this storm along. I told him I was being purely selfish, but that it would also be good for the land because the last two years have been dry. When I got home I spent some time brushing a lot of dust off of the bicycle.
Saturday night I was having trouble sleeping. I'd doze, wake up, doze. One time when I woke up I heard something, entirely unexpected, almost unbelievable. I put on shorts and walked out to stand in the rain. Lovely, magic water falling like a gift from the sky. My friend Mirjam, in Holland, tells me I'm nuts, but she gets rain all year around. Maybe I'd be blase' also. As it is, I just have to go outside.
Sunday morning. Due to various upsets I have no desire to attend a church anywhere; the last experience burned my tail off and I don't want to repeat it. The clearing-up shower comes through and the sky lightens. Shortly after sunrise I head out on the mountain bike, looking for weather.
It's out there. Beautiful. Huge clouds rise over the beach. Everything is wet, windy, fragrant. The climb into Will Rogers Park is so fragrant it's as if I could gain weight from just smelling it. Rich. Sage, eucalyptus, buckwheat, others. Overhead ragged clouds blow past on a wind that shakes collected rain from the trees onto my bare head.
The dirt road up the hill is untracked. I climb toward the clouds and pick up gravel in my hair and mud on my legs. Bright yellow Cougar is turning brown. Knobby tires pick up lots of dirt.
It's better to be depressed on a mountain bike ride than anywhere else. Just get some physical thrash going and keep at it. A wide splinter of sunlight found a hole in the clouds and flooded Santa Monica. Viewed from up here the city is almost attractive, but the shrubs smell a lot better.
Hunger and my bum left knee drove me home. I hosed the dirt off my legs and the bike and then oiled the latter. I wish I could do the same for my knee.
Perhaps the activity was oil for the mind. Various ideas shook loose. I'd been hiding from God, partially, and when I do that the lights just go out. Life isn't worth living. Mountain biking is no reason to live, but it is a way I use to sort things out.
If it hadn't rained, I wouldn't have been out there. I apologize to all the people who were hurt by this rain, the ones whose roofs weren't finished, those who had fender-benders on the highway. Go ahead, blame me. I needed rain, so I asked for it.
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
The Berean's Book
That's what friends are for, all right. Job loses everything and those who
call themselves friends land on him with both feet.
I admire Job. Even God admits he's blameless. When Satan asks permission to
ruin the man's life, God says "Go ahead. He will not curse me." This is
interesting. Satan has to ask for permission and even then can only go as
far as God allows. "Do not touch the man." Satan, for all of his pride,
dances to God's tune.
This dance has some hard steps. Job loses family, land, flocks,
possessions. Everything but his health. He remains upright. God points this
out to Satan, but the Devil says that if Job were afflicted himself, he
would crumble. God gives His permission. "Everything but his life."
Job breaks out in boils. Pain in every moment. Yet he maintains his stance
on what he has perceived as truth: there is no reason for his torment. He
asks questions, raises issues, doesn't understand, but he waits for a real
By this time his friends have found out. Three of them come by to help.
Their brand of help is very common. Every woman who has been blamed for her
own rape, every man who has been told to stop crying and act like a man,
they know all about this.
This is why I never ask for help. This whole story has been burned deeply
into my soul and nothing is worth risking that kind of pain. I know I have
problems. I don't need someone else to come along and point out the
problems and then tell me I should buck up and smile. Or that it's all my
fault and if I were just a little bit different this wouldn't happen.
That's the route my brother went. He's dead now, of alcohol and
hopelessness. He covered over his essential fragility with a brittle
bluster, and he tried to teach me the same.
This may be the earliest sign of God's presence in my life. I didn't buy
that solution, believing, for reasons I never could explain, that there was
something better. I believed that everyone else in my life was wrong. If
I'd have known Job's story at the time I might have had more courage.
Eventually Job's three friends give it up as a bad job. Job is inconsolable
and refuses to admit his sin. He won't let them talk him into admitting
something he can't believe. There's a line here we all have to deal with:
how long do we hold onto our own truth? People who don't hold on get blown
every which way, but those who hold on too long, as did my brother, are
destroyed by their unchanging stance in a changing world. Job stands by his
So another friend, like the "closer" in a car deal, comes by to really
ream him out. Job is sitting there, covered in boils, dust, ashes and
sackcloth, and this nice guy comes along. Ken Medema wrote a song about
people like this: Hey, Goody-Goody, way up in the sky..." Job stands up to
this man also, He curses the day he was born but won't say anything against
And then God enters the picture.
"Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!"
Job, recognizing truth, replies.
"You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you
and you shall answer me.'
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."
God is sovereign. The pot can't complain to the potter about how it's made
or the course of its life. Job did the only thing he could have done when
presented with the truth: he rolled over.
At first I wanted nothing to do with God's help. Only desperation got me
through that. He started in small things. I made some mistakes and learned
that God never jumps on the downtrodden with hobnailed boots. He corrects,
but he doesn't hold grudges. He offers answers but, unlike Job's and our
friends, God isn't doing this to shore up his shaky pride. He has one goal
in mind: restoring the wounded.
God restored Job. Children, flocks, lands, everything and more. Job learned
something, presumably his dense friends learned something, but Satan didn't
learn a thing. He's still running around like a lion, trying to ignore his
May God grant us all the grace to become flexible before God, so that the
lessons can be gentle.
Friday, October 08, 2004
Walking Tall As Trees
Mention that God owns everything and we just borrow it from Him, and it sounds as if there's no ground for confidence. If you look at history, however, you can see that people have really screwed the pooch. The world is in much worse shape than it was 100 years ago, and you can extrapolate the curve back as far as you want. History is a stern teacher: people are lousy managers.
Now look at a forest. It lives on, its complex interactions taking place with no trouble nor fuss on the part of the participants. A fire comes through and razes part of the forest. Trees are destroyed, but their ashes nourish new kinds of fire-follower plants. Eventually even the trees come back, and the various animals that depend upon them. God holds all things in His hands, and the forest is a beautiful example. Prairie is too, but you have to dig in order to see how this works. The grass can't grow without complex interactions of soil and microorganisms that remain in a fluctuating balance. The system is stable and center-seeking, with excursions being damped more strongly as they move off-center.
In one of Charles de Lint's beautiful Newford novels, a shy character is advised to "walk tall as trees" when dealing with the book's elder spirits. Hold her head up and be proud of who she is. It's a very nice idea.
There are problems. Shy people like me can walk tall as trees only while the energy holds out, which isn't long, and it takes a long time to recharge. My confidence is like a snowball on a hot day. (Blogging, by the way, is a special case. It's more like sand sculpture: a short-term creative exercise, soon forgotten.)
So, what's this I find happening to myself? Yesterday I was in our regular Thursday "Purpose-Driven Life" study, and I was speaking forcefully about how God works with me. The subject was chapter 32, "Using what God gave you." I have thought about this a lot, wondering what I'm made for. Usually this goes quietly. I normally don't say a whole lot at these meetings, but I've been thinking a lot lately about timid Christians.
There are churches and people who are afraid to ask God for anything. Maybe they don't want to get farther in debt to God, or maybe no one told them that they can ask. Or perhaps they've gotten caught in the "prosperity gospel," which says that God's favor is measured by how big your house is. All of that is too cheap for God. What he really wants is our hearts. My heart. Once that starts to happen, you begin to learn that everything that has breath came from God. Your debt cannot be any bigger than it is now, so you might as well dream of the moon and ask for everything you want. As God gets more and more of your heart you learn what to ask for, and fancy cars and big houses just don't cut it. They're much too common. God refines the true gold inside you and all kinds of things open up that are inconceivable until you've entered His kingdom through the cross of Jesus.
Jesus Christ gives us confidence. He paid our debt. God sees us, those of us who believe, as righteous and ready for His blessing. Jesus did it, not me. God does what He says He will. That is confidence. I don't have to trust my own melt-in-the-hot-sun confidence. God is trustworthy. I can walk tall as trees not because I'm good, nor because I'm strong, but because my Father is strong enough to make it work.
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
Why is knowing good and evil a problem? I've wondered about this for a long time. We have to know the difference in order to guide our lives.
Or do we? Could it be that by trying to figure out and keep track of the difference we wear ourselves into an early grave? Maybe we tie ourselves into knots by working at this subtle guidance. It's easy to argue and get confused.
What's certain is that I'm no good at it. Well, sort of. I can see the boulders, but the sand and dust get by, and life becomes very gritty.
So, what can I do? Turn the whole mess over to God. Let Him use His discernment. Maybe this is the way Eve and Adam lived in the garden: if they approached wrong, the Holy Spirit would give them a twitch.
He has certainly given me twitches. The problem is that most of the time life goes on and there's no discernible twitch of guidance. This might mean that I'm completely insensitive, and that's my guess. But the other day I got a radical idea: maybe the lack of a twinge of wrongness means I'm doing OK. No judgment. Not arrived, but on the path.
Can I really trust God to do this? Is it not something that is really up to me? I truly don't know. I don't know where the limit is in what God will do in my life. I know that getting up in the morning and getting to work is my responsibility, but what else? There's a large grey area.
The only way I know of to find out is the scientific method: try it and see what blows up. If I get conviction on not doing something, then that pretty well means it's my responsibility. I think.
Could it be there is a far wider range of freedom for a follower of Jesus than we're usually led to believe? If this is true, if God really will help me stay away from evil, life would be a lot better. There are so many things I don't know. I'm very, very glad that God is a good and patient teacher.
Taking the New Land
All of us come out of our own bondage in Egypt. The problem is that we're familiar with Egypt. We know how it works, and anything else looks strange.
I was very lucky. Well, in truth, luck had nothing to do with it. God let me wander around for years, denying Him and forgetting His promise. He promised me in 1971 that He would give me a new life. I dabbled a foot in the river, got confused and scared, and pulled back. I wanted to find God on my side of the river; He wasn't there, so I assumed He didn't exist.
He did not forget His promise. He waited... waited... while I drove myself farther down into a deep trench. He moved when He knew I was in a condition that I'd pay attention to His voice. A friend of mine has said many times that he wished God would speak as clearly to him as He has to me. Desperation tends to improve hearing. When the waiting was over, God moved one sensitive man into my life, and I ended up going to church for the first time in years.
Churches present many views of God. Some views are comforting, some are forbidding, some are intellectual, some are emotionally over the top. I needed to see God clearly in action, working in people's lives, doing things that changed the people. I needed to see people excited about God's actions, not the same old tired ritual of people saying God was remaking them when actually it was the people's own efforts doing the changing. I'd already tried that and failed. I needed supernatural help, and I needed people to lead me in the right direction. I needed people to show me what was possible.
This is what I found at Mosaic. The people were excited about what God was doing, and they were being changed. They were also open to me changing them. We all grew together. The most important thing they did for me was to give me examples of how God works in a way I could see. Both by example and by teaching I learned what I needed to know, and it was like rain falling after a fire has ravaged the hillsides.
Southern California is dominated by the chaparral ecosystem. All the rain falls in the winter. Fires break out in the fall and suddenly the mountains' bones are exposed. Ash and dirt. Then the rains start and flowers simply explode from the ground which is no longer bare. Chaparral is designed to burn so as to make way for new life.
So it became natural to me to ask God for things. Mosaic told me about His promises, and exemplified what happens when you trust those promises, and I needed them so I asked. I didn't know any better, and ended up thrashing my way across the Jordan and cutting a wide swath through the land I discovered. I had all these folks at Mosaic with me. They'd learned to live in a wide land, and the idea just rubbed off onto me.
Since then I've learned that this experience is unusual. Sad to say, many people just stay parked by the Jordan. They don't know what's out there! Toward the end of "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," by C.S. Lewis, the travellers find Aslan's Table spread with wonderful food but they're too afraid to eat any of it. Aslan is the great Lion, who represents Jesus Christ in these books. A woman comes out of a hill and asks them why they aren't eating. They mention all of their bad experiences on the trip. Once assured of the safety of the food, they fall to.
The bible is full of God's promises. I was walking back to the shop yesterday when I started thinking about this. My thoughts were prompted by a conversation with another man earlier in the day. He has been a Christian for a long time and knows the Bible very well. Has lots of it memorized, and can quote on any subject. As far as living goes, he's still timidly waiting for someone to tell him he can eat what God has provided. He's camped on the bank of the Jordan, wondering if it's OK for him to walk any farther.
On my walk I was thinking I'd been lucky to have found Mosaic. The Holy Spirit changed my thought. Luck had nothing to do with it; God was honoring his promise. God always does what he promises. He has promised to give us real life, to protect us, to teach us, to convict us.
From the outside it looks a very narrow place. People say everything is good; you can't just limit yourself to believing in Jesus. How can you say that anyone who doesn't believe in Jesus is going to Hell? I don't say it. God does. The gate is narrow. You have to come to God through Jesus. One way to approach, one way to be clean enough so that God can talk to you. After that the country becomes very large. The farther I walk the bigger it gets. You are either a slave to sin or a slave to God, and the latter is unlike any other kind of slavery you've heard of.
Monday, October 04, 2004
The music was beautiful. There was one really neat number that had the room rocking as the women sang one part and the men sang another part and the counterpoint was lovely. I was running pretty far behind on things so it all merged into graceful sound.
Then the pastor got up and started talking. My slow thoughts came instantly awake when he said the word "communion." Does he mean what I think he means?
Mosaic has a monthly Lord's Supper service. It's in a special place and scheduled in advance. This gives me time to get myself together. I still sometimes find it hard to believe that God wants me around, and the Lord's Supper is a very sharp reminder of what He had to do in order to bring me to himself. And here I was in a strange church, strange people, and they're doing communion! Yeow. What do I do now? Run?
Hah. Run? A turtle could catch me, assuming I could get out of the chair. I stayed put. Unlike one church I attended years ago that said only members of that church could partake, this one was open to any follower of Jesus. Between that person and the Lord. I closed my eyes and remembered.
When Debbie tapped me on the shoulder I came up with a start. I'd been concentrating pretty hard. There was the tray of cracker pieces in front of me. I took one and passed it on.
It was gracefully done, and beautiful. What Jesus had to do so that we could live is so different from anything we experience in daily life that thinking about it just stops me in my tracks. We ate and drank together. This is the core of the Christian experience: Jesus making us right with God.
The preacher's message was related. He talked about commandments, and integrity, and the law. Beyond that is the law of love: love God with all your heart, love your neighbor, and only God enables us to live that way. We can't earn any of God's grace, but after we've been given grace, He gives us the Holy Spirit to teach us how to live.
And the Holy Spirit seems to care about sand sculptors. I was reading the Gospel of Luke Saturday night after the sculpture, and read the passage about the man who gives money to his servants and expects them to invest it. One doesn't, and the money is taken away and given to the others. The implication is clear: use your talents, or they will be taken away. This idea has always frightened me because I know I have talents. Most of the time they're under a bushel basket. God probably wants to take the basket away.
He has not taken the talents away. The implication of this idea were strong, although I don't know if my interpretation is correct. If God takes away talents from those who don't use them and gives them to those who will, then the reciprocal idea seems valid: I still have my troubleshooting skills, so God must be reasonably pleased with how I use them. I haven't devolved into a TV-watching robot.
And I do build lanterns of sand out on a public beach. There are depths to living with Jesus that I don't understand at all.
When I got to the beach there wasn't a hint of sunrise. I worked for an hour in moonlight, but the first part of the operation doesn't require detail. I was just hauling sand to the building site, and moonlight is enough to show the difference between sand and seaweed so I could choose a place to put the sculpture.
Through all of this I was expecting judgment. I've been expecting this for a long time, actually; waiting for God to say "Larry, it's time to quit fooling around with these things and get on with the serious business of following Me." What that serious business was I didn't know for sure, but I know it involves many things I'm not good at, such as love.
We are, as followers of Jesus, adjured to let our lights shine from hilltops rather than from the inside of bushel baskets. Mine seems to be not only inside a basket, but under the bed in a room with the door closed and locked, and that inside a house that usually looks uninhabited. I just don't like being a showpiece of any kind.
Yet here I am doing another sculpture. On the beach. It's about as public as it gets, but I have to go where the materials are, and have learned to tolerate the attention I draw. I can even enjoy it sometimes because it's honest. I'm not here to be a show-off, and have done sculpture on days so nasty and cold that I'm the only one here except for a lonely lifeguard scanning the empty stormy surf. I also earn it. I haul the sand, I make the tools, I pack the sand. I plan and execute the sculpture and it stands or falls by my ability. There's no fakery involved.
About halfway into this one it was looking like a disaster. An ugly, overly complex combination of parts that all seemed to come from failed sculptures from years past. I even thought about just packing up and walking away, but the day was lovely and I could still use the practice.
There was also plenty of time. Normally at this time of year I have to work fast, which brings its own potential for mistakes. This day's early start meant I had time to think about what I was doing. This sometimes is a problem in that too much time can lead to being very fussy and getting buried in excess detail.
The central problem of making sculpture is to make it look like a sculpture instead of a cluster of parts. The key to this is to have some patience, to look instead of cut, but not look too long. The key to patience is food. Normally I just sort of forget about this and low blood sugar defeats my concentration. The previous sculpture had been improved by eating more, which led to improved concentration.
You'd think eating was basic. I tend to get wrapped up in what I do. You'd also think that the Holy Spirit has better things to do than to help someone concentrate on a sand sculpture; this isn't exactly going to change the world. This is how it has worked out, and it worked again on this day. I kept eating, kept concentrating, and through use of detail carving and maintaining a good mental model of where the sculpture's parts were it turned out very well.
Near sunset the whole sculpture lit up like a lantern. This one had no top, just two vertical fins with slots that ended in open unsupported space. Sunlight flooded in, bounced around on the tawny sand and every feature glowed. It was spectacular, one of the sculptures that I didn't want to walk away from.
The next day I went to Metro Church with some friends. Afterward we had lunch, and I told them about the sculpture, how surprised I'd been that God seemed to care about this. Debbie looked at me and said "God delights in your presence."
Friday, October 01, 2004
Faith in the Game
That's the only game that really captured my attention. It was colorful, abstract, and wanted some thinking rather than relying on pure twitchiness. Other games were too repetitive or too goal-oriented, and in later years they became simply ugly.
The same applied to games that ran on PCs, when home computers became popular. Shoot things, blow things up, it wasn't my thing.
Then Cyan introduced Cosmic Osmo, a Hypercard stack in living black-and-white. This fascinated me; it was interactive. Click on things to use them or to move through the worlds. The game showed what could be done, but there was nothing else like it.
Some years later a friend told me he'd gotten something called "Myst," and he didn't like it. Would I be interested?
I gave it a try and didn't stick. Later, when I was in a better mood, I tried it again and this time completed it. It turned out to be my kind of game: beautiful, running at my pace, things to think about and figure out. It was like reading a book except that now I was a character in the book. I was sorry when I finished it.
I was even more sorry when I finished its follow-on, "Riven." This is still the best computer game I've ever played.
It's a small genre, the pure adventure game. You don't get killed, you don't even shoot at things. You wander around and figure things out. A new title comes out occasionally. Lately I've played "RHEM" and "Alida."
RHEM is highly enigmatic. You start out in a railcar and then you have to figure out lots of strange mechanisms. At first I did pretty well but then I hit the wall. I finally found a walk-through on the Web and resorted to that.
A walk-through is written by someone who has played through to the end, and shows all the steps for completing the game. By using one you short-cut the logic of the game. The game has its own logic and you learn this meta-logic as you play by figuring out the simple puzzles and building that into a model of the whole system; you hope that knowledge increases at the same rate as need. The walk-through short-circuits the process of figuring out the meta-knowledge.
The RHEM walk-through showed me why I'd gotten stuck: some devices in the game just weren't working. After that I couldn't trust the game any more and had to use the walk-through for all clues. It wasn't much fun.
The fact that I had to use a walk-through for parts of Alida is all my fault. The writer's logic was more subtle than I expected. This was actually good because it broke up the pattern of meta-logic by which I played the game and thereby took shortcuts. It was more like how puzzles would be set up in the real world. It was still frustrating, and it still short-circuited the gaining of meta-knowledge.
Meta-knowledge deals with epistemology. How do we know what we know, and how do we learn? One I started using the walk-through it was like looking at the test answers in school: right answer, but I couldn't derive them myself so I'd be helpless outside of a controlled situation. It's also like people here in Los Angeles who know only one route to work and if that
route is closed they have no idea what to do.
There is no walk-through for the life of a follower of Jesus. Each day is new.
There's a certain amount of faith involved in the playing of an adventure game. You have to assume that the writer wants you to figure it out; he could easily make it impossible. Once there's a breaking of faith--if the game doesn't work, if you lose the thread of meta-logic--it becomes very frustrating. That's when you have to resort to a walk-through, or you just
"Without faith it is impossible to please Him." I'm not much for faith. Faith is for people who'd rather believe in absurdity than do the serious work finding truth requires. And yet now I'm faced with a variety of situations I can't see beyond. How much faith do I have in God's adventure game? Do trust that He has made it figure-outable? Do I trust that He has left the clues lying around for me to pick up and then take the next step? Do I trust that the goal of the game is anything I care about?
Some years ago I was playing cards with a man who was a student at the same university I was in. I knew he was gay, but this had never mattered. The phone rang and he talked for a time; I heard the word "trick" used a couple of times. After he hung up he said his friend had asked if I was a trick. He'd said no, and I knew he meant it, but still this near brush with being used was so highly disgusting to me that I never saw him again.
I want to be myself. Nothing less. Nothing more. Not a copy of someone else, not someone else's tool. I want the characteristics that I have to matter in some unique way. Now I find that I just don't know much about where I'm going. The Holy Spirit pretty much has to do everything. He does it better than I do. What's left of me?
Singularity. I'm seriously disgruntled right now, but there really is only one way out. Step over the singularity and believe that God made me as I am for a reason.